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Sunday, September 25, 2011

Drive (and other digressions)



Last week, Fish Tank reminded me of a thought that once bothered me --- As stories accumulate over human history, will we one day run out of stories to tell? Have we already? Is there truly nothing new under the sun?

I'm sure other deep thinkers have long contemplated such literary apocalypse before, although at least I can claim that I came up with it independently. It seems inevitable (to me) that there are only a finite number of stories, or original thoughts, available to the universe of the human mind and experience. Homer and other classical authors had it easier than modern storytellers, one could argue.

Fish Tank was excellent, yet my brain could not help but drudge up all the similar movies I had seen before. Same with Drive. It is impeccably crafted with a strong point of view, yet I cannot bring myself to use the word "unique."

From the start, Drive immediately recalls the archetypal western: A lone gunslinger with no past or allegiance comes to town. He befriends a good woman and her family. He toys with the fantasy of settling down with such a woman and having a normal life. He feels protective toward them. He is subsequently drawn into violent showdowns to save the peaceful normal people. In the end he rides into the sunset, alone, because that is his destiny, because the lone gunman can never integrate into society. In Drive, the entire setup, down to the ending, pays full homage to Shane (don't they all?).

The interlude involving the voluptuous Christina Hendricks (poor woman), on the other hand, was a halfhearted reference to film noir. Albert Brooks is a somewhat fresh touch in the genre though (I'd hesitate to call him "delightful"). The storyline of crime boss setting up their minor underlings, meanwhile, reminds me of John Woo's The Killer and its predecessor Le Samurai (Melville). Yeah, in this kind of stories, the boss always sells out their employees/contractors, just like bureaucrats. There may be a semi-decent middle manager (Bryan Cranston here, Chu Kong in The Killer), but the big boss is always evil. Did the French audience recognize Alain Delon's le Samurai in the boyish Ryan Gosling?

It's so meta! Nicolas Winding Refn's graphic violence and the strong retro style must have Quentin Tarantino, the king of remixing the old, biting his lips furiously. I suspect a nod to the Japanese swordsmen/Yakuza genre in all the blood squirts that both Tarantino and Refn seem to love. The techno soundtrack, on the other hand, is very European.

A bit of homage here, a tip of hat there. Meta on top of meta, references to references. It's all because we are born too late.

There's nothing wrong with Drive, which is made with a precise eye and a ruthless pair of scissors. (Editing is king, I often think.) I only shudder at the end of original stories as we know it. Or, perhaps, it is merely a hazard of being old and jaded like me.

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